In recent years, paper towels and inefficient hot-air hand dryers in many public restrooms have been replaced by cool-air hand dryers that are intended to dry hands in less than 15 seconds and cut down on the cost and waste of paper towels. Unfortunately, the more efficient, modern hand dryers produce extreme noise levels, especially when people lower their hands into the dryers’ high-speed jets of cool air.
In an article for The Dallas Morning News, writer Thor Christensen discusses the annoying decibel levels and potential harm caused by these modern hand dryers. According to Christensen’s article, the noise produced by many of these dryers can reach 100 decibels, and the machines are a growing nuisance for millions of people with tinnitus or hyperacusis, a disorder characterized by hyper-sensitivity to noise.
Christensen reports that earlier this year, Oregon Senator Chris Edwards proposed legislation in his state to limit public hand dryers to 84 decibels because louder models are “extraordinarily obnoxious and disruptive” to people with sensory disorders, including his autistic son, who cries and covers his ears when he’s near loud hand dryers. While that proposal is still being considered, many hearing experts have weighed in on the issue, arguing that the sudden blasts of sharp, shrill noises from the high-speed dryers are more than a nuisance–they can pose problems for sensitive individuals.
Citing a recent study released by the University of Michigan and 3M Corporation’s E-A-RCAL Acoustical Laboratory, Christensen says that researchers measured the noise from several popular models at ear level. According to the study report, the Dyson Airblade AB 02 produced 90 decibels, the Xlerator emitted 97 decibels, and the Xlerator XL-BW emitted 100 decibels. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that workers keep their noise exposure below 85 decibels for an 8-hour shift. But at 100 decibels, NIOSH recommends less than 15 minutes exposure per day. Since nobody uses hand dryers for 15 minutes, the devices are not likely to cause permanent hearing damage, experts say, but even short exposures to loud noise can worsen tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears that is experienced by 10% of US adults, according to the National Institutes of Health.
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